The empty sea


DEB News


Let's meet Benny Chan



Diversity at a glance


"In the News"

Book Review

Wild Corner

Recent Publications

Information for Contributors



Let’s meet Benny Kwok Kan Chan

by Benny Chan

This is the third recent passage in ‘Porcupine’ introducing new members of staff in the department. After Billy and Kenny, here I am Benny. (Hope this will not get you confused with names!) Those in the Department of Ecology & Biodiversity are quite familiar with Benny---‘born’ in this Department in 1993 as an Environmental Science undergraduate student, and now a Research Assistant Professor (RAP) in 2002.

During my childhood, my family often went to beaches in Stanley. Apart from swimming, I spent much of my time looking at the creatures on the shores. As a result, I developed a keen interest in inter-tidal organisms as a child. I particularly recall the time when I was an A-level student, when I had a field trip to Cape d’Aguilar. This was my first sight of the Swire Marine Laboratory (now called the Swire Institute of Marine Science – SWIMS). At that very moment, I started to think about how great it would be if I could have an opportunity to conduct marine research at that laboratory in the future. Today, my RAP post is based exactly at SWIMS. My big dream has come true!

In the summer of 1994, I first learnt what formal ecological research was all about. Being a student research assistant supervised by Dr. Gray Williams, I was assigned to study limpet trails. This proved to be a good head start and I learnt a lot of good research practices including the setting up of field and laboratory log books for recording ideas, data and observations related to research. Today, I also encourage my students to stick to such good and systematic research practices. My final year B.Sc. project was related to rocky shore ecology investigating the physico-chemical environment in rocky pools. This final year project further stimulated my research interest in inter-tidal ecology. In 1996, I started my Ph.D. degree investigating the ecology of the rocky shore barnacles Tetraclita squamosa and Tetraclita japonica in Hong Kong, and once again, Gray was my supervisor. In this research, T. squamosa and T. japonica were separated into different species using adult and larval morphological analyses and allozyme electrophoresis. A comparative ecological study was then conducted to compare the distribution, population dynamics, reproductive biology, larval morphology and recruitment of the two Tetraclita species.

Conducting research during my post-graduate life was a very enjoyable experience. Besides gaining knowledge in barnacle ecology by conducting independent research, I also learnt from my supervisor a lot about research ethics in performing good quality work which has influenced my research. Although my supervisor is a limpet ‘nut’ always playing jokes in saying that limpets are interesting but barnacles are boring, barnacles, in fact, are far more interesting than limpets. Try to think of any marine environment or habitats where you cannot find a barnacle? Have you ever figured out how many life forms of barnacles there are?

As Jerome Tichenor said:

"There are some crusty balanoids who ride on whales,
And among the hosts in more congenial climes,
Is dainty Janthina who harbors as she sails,
A little Lepas sweeping water for its feeding times…..
Their variety of life and form is great in ocean’s range:
Borers into snail shells, and parasitic ways so nauseous,
And shadow dodging Pollicipes is passing strange,
Yet all begin their lives as a dainty nauplius!"

(From: New Frontiers in Barnacle Evolution, Frederick R. Schram and Jens T. Hoeg(eds). A.A. Balkema/Rotterdam/Brookfield. 1995, pp.9.)

After obtaining my Ph.D. degree at 1999 I started my post-doctoral studies (2000-2002) in the Virtual School of Biodiversity (VSB), a collaborative project between our Department and the University of Nottingham, UK. My research in this project focused on creating an independent student-centred learning environment in environmental education using web-based resources. This project gave me new opportunities for conducting educational research beside scientific research. Working with colleagues in the department also involved in the VSB project, I was involved in designing and implementing Learning Support Centres, web-based practicals and Virtual Scrapbooks for courses in the Environmental Life Sciences Programme to enhance students’ learning environment. The pedagogy of web-based practicals and Virtual Scrapbooks was published in international refereed educational journals. Continuing to work on computer assisted learning materials for the course in the Environmental Life Science Programme, my VSB and DEB colleagues and I won first place awards in both the first (2001) and second (2002) IT in Education Competition in HKU and this gave us tremendous encouragement!

My current research focuses on the patterns and processes affecting organism distributions in mangroves. Previous studies on the factors affecting distribution patterns of intertidal organisms were mostly conducted on rocky shores, with few studies made in other intertidal habitats, resulting in little assessment of the generality of the patterns seen. Investigations of the factors affecting the distribution patterns of intertidal organisms, therefore, need to be conducted in a variety of intertidal habitats including mangroves, sandy shores and boulder shores. Currently, I am using mangrove barnacles, which are common on the mangrove tree trunks, as an example to study the effects of biological factors, such as larval supply and settlement, as well as physical factors including heat stress, in affecting the horizontal and vertical distribution patterns in mangroves. This study will initiate a research programme addressing the distribution patterns of barnacles in mangroves, their larval morphologies, larval supply and settlement processes in relation to their distribution patterns. I am also interested in the morphology and ecology of the parasitic barnacle, Sacculina sinensis (Crustacean: Rhizocephala) in Hong Kong, which infects the intertidal crab Leptodius exaratus. At present, I am involved in teaching Coastal Ecology and co-ordinating the Dissertation course in the Environmental Life Science Programme.

Apart from conducting research, I am also responsible for establishing mechanisms and processes so as to ensure that SWIMS runs as an effective Institute. Currently, I am updating and arranging the specimens and database in the museum of SWIMS and creating systems so that the museum will serve as a useful marine research resource. I am also designing systems for new students, research assistants and foreign visitors so that they can start their work easily at SWIMS.

I also involve myself very much in the department. From being a Post-doctoral Research Fellow to date, I have been responsible for developing and maintaining the connections between the department and local secondary schools, introducing secondary school students to the basic ecology of Hong Kong and to our undergraduate Programme in Environmental Life Science. I am also involved in the JUPAS Open Day designing and managing the demonstrations of our Environmental Life Science Programme to the JUPAS students. Collaborating with the staff in this department, we have a grant in the UGC Interface Project 2000 to create workshops for secondary school teachers so that they can teach more effectively in the field. We also hold a grant from the HKU Seed Fund for authoring Environmental Field Guides for secondary school students so that they can have easy access to identification of organisms and information on the basic ecology of Hong Kong habitats. This summer, I am representing the department in a Faculty-organised function titled "Summer Science Institute for Secondary Students" and am responsible for taking students to Cape d’Aguilar to look at the marine organisms and their conservation in Hong Kong.

Marine ecology is a very enjoyable profession. When alone on the shore, you can think a lot about ecology. As Keats Sonnet said "…Then on the shore. Of the wide world I stand alone, and think…" (From Ecology of Rocky Coasts, essays presented to J.R. Lewis, D.Sc., P.G. Moore and R. Seed (eds). Hodder and Stoughton 1985, pp.467).


Chan, B. K. K. (2001). Studies on Tetraclita squamosa and Tetraclita japonica I: adult morphology. Journal of Crustacean Biology 21: 616-630.

Chan, B. K. K., Morritt, D. & Williams, G. A. (2001). Effect of salinity and recruitment on the distribution of Tetraclita squamosa and Tetraclita japonica in Hong Kong. Marine Biology 138: 999-109.

Yan, Y. & Chan, B. K. K. (2001). Larval morphology and development of Chthamalus malayensis (Crustacean: Cirripedia) and a revision in the genus Chthamalus. Journal of the Marine Biological Association of the United Kingdom 81: 623-632.

Chan, B. K. K. & Huang, R. (2000). Diet and feeding preference of Turbo cornutus (Gastropoda: Turbinidae) in Hong Kong. In: The Marine Flora and Fauna of Hong Kong and Southern China (ed. B. Morton). Proceedings of the Eighth International Marine Biological Workshop: The Marine Flora and Fauna of Hong Kong and Southern China, Hong Kong. pp. 205-216. Hong Kong: Hong Kong University Press.

Huang, R. & Chan, B. K. K. (2000). Morphology and development of the egg capsules of Siphonaria japonica in Hong Kong. In: The Marine Flora and Fauna of Hong Kong and Southern China (ed. B. Morton). Proceedings of the Eighth International Marine Biological Workshop: The Marine Flora and Fauna of Hong Kong and Southern China, Hong Kong. pp. 129-136. Hong Kong: Hong Kong University Press.

Chan, B. K. K. (2000). Diurnal physico-chemical variations in Hong Kong rock pools. Asian Marine Biology 17: 43-54.

Chan, B. K. K. & Williams, G. A. (accepted, pending revision). Effect of physical stress and mollusc grazing on the settlement and recruitment of Tetraclita squamosa and Tetraclita japonica in Hong Kong. Journal of Experimental Marine Biology and Ecology.

Chan, B. K. K. Studies on Tetraclita squamosa and Tetraclita japonica II: larval morphology. Unpublished manuscript.

Chan, B. K. K., Chan, W. K. S. & Walker, G. (accepted pending revision). Seasonal biofilm successional patterns at a sheltered shore in Hong Kong. Biofouling.

Environmental Education Publications

Chan, B. K. K., Hodgkiss, I. J. & Chan, R. Y. P. (2002). A distributed teaching model in a freshwater ecology practical in Hong Kong. Journal of Computer Assisted Learning 18 (3): 309-319.

Chan, B. K. K., Tong, D. P. B., Brailsford, T., Trewhella, W. J. & Hodgkiss, I. J. (2001). The Virtual School of Biodiversity: Virtual Scrapbook and its potential applications. Educational Research Journal 16: 213-222.

Trewhella, W. J., Davies, P. M. C., Chan, B. K. K. & Williams, G. A. (2001). Inter-institutional collaborative teaching in the Virtual School of Biodiversity. Poster Proceedings of the Tenth International World Wide Web Conference. The International World Wide Web Conference Committee.

Chan, B. K. K., Tong, D. P. B. & Williams, G. A. (2000) A web-based practical in mangrove ecology: a preliminary evaluation of students' responses. In: Proceedings of the Sixth Hong Kong Web Symposium: The Web Generation (CD-ROM).

Davies, P., Williams, G. A., Chan, B. K. K. & Tong, D. P. B. (2000). The Virtual School of Biodiversity: Learning Support Centres. In: Proceedings of the Sixth Hong Kong Web Symposium: The Web Generation (Conference abstract, CD-ROM).

Gray, J. S., Chan, B. K. K. & Caley, K. J. (2000). Spatial variation in biodiversity. Scholar's Desktop Version 2.1. The Virtual School of Biodiversity. (This courseware has been used in the second year undergraduate course 'Biodiversity' in the Dept. of Ecology & Biodiversity, The University of Hong Kong).






For more information, contact

Copyright © 2000